Choosing stories wisely solves many speaking problems

storytelling_sm

Today I witnessed a student struggle initially with an impromptu speech. He started out so general that he covered his topic in only 15 seconds, leave a full 45 seconds to meet his minimum. For impromptu speeches, I’ll nudge them a little if they get stuck, and he responded, but only plowed ahead a little bit before grinding once again to a halt.

He was almost at his minimum time at that point, so I almost “helped” him out by starting to applaud, relieving him of his discomfort. Before I could, though, an expression of recognition crossed his face. Cliché it might be, but it was like the sudden illumination of a light bulb. He had instantly recalled, then over the next minute recounted, an actual story of something that happened to him when he was young.

Delivery hesitancy disappeared. Animation flowed into his gestures and his voice like water suddenly filling a hose. Concern for the “right” words evaporated as they naturally formed to support his descriptions, vicariously taking the audience with him into memory and leaving them laughing, leaning forward, wanting to know what happened next.

Finding his story swept aside problems in organization, content, delivery, motivation, energy, engaging the audience, effectively using time, and confidence.

We don’t do impromptu speeches in class to learn how to do impromptu speeches, although having the skills to think on one’s feet comes in handy. We do them to help learn about organization for the ear, and about conversational delivery. I think something opened up for that student that he can now take into his prepared speeches. With time to think about it outside class, he can go into his story without fumbling, without yielding to the temptation to write it all out word-for-word.

What about you? Have you had a communication breakthrough experience like that? Have you discovered the power of a good story to anchor the rest of your speech?

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4 Comments

  1. Sandra Weeks

    I wonder what would happen if instead of being kind and encouraging you got “in someones face” (and put down your weapon) aka grade book and had them do an impromptu speech on a matter close to the heart….If you asked them about an issue we face in real life and no matter what side they took you take the other side… Had them answer without the possibility of a bad grade…. just a thought.

    • Donn King

      I actually do something similar at times–depends on the class. It’s sort of sad that a lot of students these days don’t do anything unless a grade it attached. Learning for the sake of learning is relatively rare.

  2. Sharon Roth

    It’s so great to watch others when the light bulb lights! Amazing. Love it! For me, it happened in prison! I was mentoring women. They became better communicators, but more importantly, they gained New Confidence. Yay!

    • Donn King

      It’s a great combination! It seems that effective communication skills and confidence go well together–one of the reasons that a public speaking course often gets included in a general education requirement for a college degree. Doesn’t mean you have to talk a lot either; I think the confidence can come from knowing you have the option, rather than feeling as if you MUST remain silent (or, perhaps, dominate another to feel safe).

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